Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Madrid: Lunch at La Terraza -- Bring it on, Ferran Adria

So this place was recommended to us by no less than three reliable sources and I have to say, La Terraza in the Casino del Madrid, was one of more highly anticipated splurges of our whole trip.

This Ferran Adria outpost is housed not in a casino a la Las Vegas, but rather, a gentleman's club. It was jacket and tie (by the restaurant's request) and we could only get in for lunch. So already, I think you're getting a picture of what we're working with.

We are waved past the security guard and check in at the front desk where the guy has us on a list and takes my coat, then directs us past the Belle Epoque staircase to the cutest danged two-seater elevator which has swinging doors like a telephone booth and is, indeed, about the same size. Jeez, does that date me or what?

When we arrive upstairs, we are instantly greeted by two people. My Omnivore turns around to close the elevator doors, because, you know, we live in an old building with a "quaint" elevator and you have to close the gate or the elevator won't operate for the next person to use, and we're polite like that. The man looked visibly pained and on the verge of begging us not to do anything resembling sullying our hands with manual labor. Can't stand the sight of tears of consternation, so we hastily abandon the elevator door.

I'm a little worried because this place is white, white, white. The guy is in a pristine blazer with contrasting piping and it reminds me of nothing so much as The Prisoner's Village. I'm in silk and cashmere and I feel seriously underdressed. Not to mention that we're the ONLY two guests there and he asks me three times if I confirmed my reservation. I'm confused because I reconfirmed over email and they obviously had my name downstairs and it's not like the place is crowded. Do they get a massive rush for tapas at 1:30, I wonder to myself a little hysterically.

I'm half anticipating our next exchange to go like this:

"Donde estoy?"
En La Village.
"Quien es?"
Soy Numero Dos.
"Quien es Numero Uno?"
Tu eres Numero Seis...
Did I mention that this place is swank? Service is Gary Danko status--absolutely attentive, down to centering the plates over the crease made in the linen tablecloth from the previous plate. It's so attentive indeed, that you start to worry because the waitstaff outnumbers you three to one and they have a kitchen full of sodium alginate on their side.

Apparently despite my lack of sufficient reconfirmation, there is room for us in La Village because he graciously leads us down the hall to-- the only way to describe it is a salon, and seats us beside a massive, eight-foot tall mirror--EXACTLY the sort that could suck an unwary Alice into Wonderland. There are four people attending us and not another guest in sight. I am, at this point, one hundred and twenty seven percent weirded out.

I guess I don't do enough high-level, formal "meet-the-Queen" dining out? Must look into this.

Not to say that the staff is cold by any means. They were perfectly nice and even made the effort to communicate in English, which was much appreciated, because when you're talking about molecular gastronomy, the menu might say "Chicken a la KFC" and it will mean gelatinized corn purée formed into a drumstick and wrapped around a baton of perfectly sous-vide chicken with fried truffled potato pate coating and a pailliard of spherified gravy on the side.

I digress. That was not on the menu. But they helpfully explained the different items and as thing went on, I won't say that we and the staff were hanging loose, but they warmed up and seemed to appreciate the curiosity about how they constructed this truly marvelous food.

Anyway, enough babble. Here's what we had:

To begin, you sit down and they start you with a cocktail. That day's special was a gin fizz, but unlike any you've ever had. They call it a "Hot Frozen Gin Fizz" and the stuff in the glass is like a frozen sorbet of gin and lemon, and they bring out a nitrogen canister filled with lemon and egg white and make a hot foam with it. If you want to try this at home, folks, be my guest... It was amazing.

For wine, we decided to put ourselves in their hands, as we know nothing about wine. The white they suggested went well with almost all the starter courses. I was a little worried that they'd given us a bottle instead of by the glass, as the server propped the bottle in the chiller behind me and kept refilling our glasses, but in they end, they only charged us for two glasses, which gave me a blink when we got our bill.

(My Omnivore also had a red for the main course, but I forgot to get the name of it.)

To begin, a stick of rhubarb, yes rhubarb, drizzled in cane syrup and sprinkled with sugar, and pepper. Oddly enough, the effect was not bitter at all, and the pepper gave just a perfect zip to the morsel. Even for a non-rhubarb lover.

A crisp cracker, into which is nestled microgreens atop crystals of salt. It comes with its own little white tube which contains olive oil butter. You squeeze it over the cracker and the effect really is delightfully playful. Here's more info on how olive oil butter is made.

The olive oil butter is only relatively stable at room temperature. I squeezed a bit onto my fingertip and it immediately began "melting" into regular old olive oil in seconds. According to one of our many servers, a very nice woman, it's mixed with 10% cocoa butter and then kept cold until service.

Our next set of appetizers-- I might mention here that I'm not calling these amuses because they didn't amuse, they did, the restaurant called them appetizers. Also, even though you get no choices-- they just start bringing these babies out--there is a €10.70 charge per person for the apps plus bread (which is also good, but just "normal.")

From the top right: a roll of thin perfectly crisp filo dough, into which is embedded flakes of aromatic oregano and topped with flavorful dried tomato powder. Below that are squares of passion fruit crisp shaped into a cup and filled with light, cloudy shaving of parmesan cheese, and to the left are the most perfect triangles of chicharrones ever created by man-- light and crispy, with a melt-in-your-mouth spiciness.

One more item on the parade of glorious apps: a tiny sandwich that looks like PB&J, but which is really a thin slab of perfectly prepared foie gras sandwiched between two crisp bread sheets and drizzled with balsamic vinegar that is so reduced it's thick like jelly.

This one is so good you could skip the rest of lunch and eat just five more.

But here come the things you actually ordered.

One thing that's clear to me now is that most of the young guns I've seen dabbling in molecular gastronomy have gotten one thing seriously wrong-- they may have figured out Adria's techniques and copied his ideas but they lack, not just his flair, but his sense of humor. Like Thomas Keller, this guy is so serious about the food, but he is obviously also just one playful maniac. Every dish is exquisite, the visual is gorgeous, the aromas are full and generous and the flavor is exquisite, but the thing that kills you and just makes you giggle every time they put a plate in front of you is how delightfully funny the ideas are and how cleverly he plays on your expectations.

Take his carbonara egg nest, an Adria classic. The orange-gold yolk is a real one-- I might add, from a seriously happy pastured chicken-- but the white is perfectly set, spherified parmesan carbonara sauce that bursts with flavor and yet has exactly the texture of an egg white and blends beautifully with the yolk.

It's on top of what looks like pasta, but is actually consommé that has been gelatinized into thin sheets and cut into ribbons-- not rubbery at all, but just a touch al dente. The plate is hot, but onto it they place a thin slice of chilled bacon- infused cream that has been cut to resemble a piece of eggshell. See what I mean? All the elements of a classic carbonara reassembled in a surprisingly hilarious way. But it's not just a gimmick for a photo op, this dish is delicious. From the moment the bacon cream hits the plate it starts melting and sending out a siren call of scent. You gently poke into the yolk--our server's advice since it can spurt out a bit-- and the mix of flavors and smells is just perfect.

For his app, my Omnivore orders a marrow and cauliflower puree. The marrow comes in one succulent block, topped with caviar, and a silky quenelle of cauliflower pure on the side. Straight up, no weird chemicals as far as I can tell, but even though it sounds odd, it was absolutely decadent.

For his next course, my Omnivore has a deconstructed paella. This one is brilliant. Given the proliferation of lobster foams, I'm guessing people see this recipe and get some funny ideas about tricks you can do with foam, but let me tell you, Adria's flavors are absolutely classic, and this is a perfect example of respecting the classic dish while presenting it in a totally fresh light.

The "rice" is actually made of spherified olive oil, which is shaped into tiny rice grains, but still has the al dente "bite" of good paella rice. The chunks of lobster are perfectly tender and just done classically, and the thing is topped with a light foam of lemon, to give it that paella tang. In case you thought it might be missing the best part of the paella, the fabulous crunchy, caramelized "soccarat" that comes from the bottom of the pan, Adria overlooks no detail and sprinkles the dish with "rice crispies" to mimic the crunch.

My second course is the low-temperature egg with mushrooms, which doesn't begin to cover it. The egg is perfect poached and covered in truffle shavings. Around it is a pool of mushrooms, and a dense dark delicious brown sauce that I could just bathe in. Again, I didn't see any crazy tricks here. Just good classic cooking.

My main course, perfectly poached red mullet formed into sushi and seared to caramelize the top. It's served in an aromatic dashi with minutely shredded seaweed fronds.

My Omnivore had the rabbit, called "Hare Royale," again another take on a classic French dish. It's thin slice of rabbit loin wrapped around foie gras and served with an artfullya rranged array of wild mushrooms (cepes and morels, among others) and drizzled with deep dark yum-sauce. On the side, a paste of truffled potatoes.

I'm getting full by this time. But here comes dessert.

Mine is a buffet of "Flavors of Madrid"-- a Madrona ice cream with strawberry flavored cream and delicately flower scented foam.

For my Omnivore, a Chirimoya joke: Chirimoyo yoghurt with a mint and white chocolate shell and cocoa beans for the seeds.

If you're interested in how a real Chirimoyo fruit looks, check here.

And by the way, you're not done yet. There's still a parade of mignardises.

At top, tiny strawberry macaroons with vanilla cream, and below, dark chocolate spun into copper-colored "coils."
Lemon Frangelico gelee blocks, and then finally rich chocolates filled with Williams Pear brandy.

Ooooff... Roll me out the door and into the ridiculously small elevator. But wait, before we go....

We were there on March 31, so it was considered too cold to open the Terrace. Duh.

But in the warm weather, there are tables outside and the view, let me just note, is spectacular.

And reconfirm. By phone (915 321 275 or 915 218 700)


Casino de Madrid
Restaurante La Terraza
Calle Alcala, 15
Madrid 28014

Total price for lunch for two with wine: €228.40

- Posted from my iPhone

No comments: